Believe in what you’re selling

(This is part one in a series I have titled “Soft Skills in Software”, which came out of points I came up with for a panel discussion at CodeMash 2008.)

Let’s get right to the point, then we’ll unpack it. If you do not believe in what your company is doing, seriously consider finding work that you can believe in.

This was the first point in a series of observations I wrote down in preparation for a panel discussion on the topic of “talking technology to humans”. (The astute reader will have noticed that this recommendation does not directly relate with how to convey one’s thoughts on technology to others with a less-technical bent. My hope is that those shining stars will read on before posting a comment or sending me flame mail.) I put this recommendation first because introducing change in technology practices is a taxing process. Since introducing change requires so much of your energy, I’d only recommend it if you believe that your organization’s work is worth what you will expend of your emotional energy.

If you don’t think that a lack of belief in your company’s work is affecting you, I’d challenge you to try a few things:

  • Ask your spouse or significant other if they think your mood and attitude toward things in general are affected by your job.
  • Ask your spouse, significant other, or children if they feel like they are walking on egg shells when you get home from work because they don’t want to “set you off”. If they look uncomfortable and say “no”, that means yes, and it’s so bad they aren’t even comfortable admitting the problem to you for fear that you may erupt. I speak from experience here.
  • Pay attention to how you answer the question “and what do you do for work?” the next time your are in a social context where that comes up; is your explanation apologetic or do you use a tone of sarcasm that indirectly lets the person know that you do not identify strongly with your company and/or the services it offers?
  • Pay attention to how you feel on the average day as you commute to work; are there more positive days than negative days?
  • Does reading this blog post incense you for reasons you can’t fully explain, and you already have a litany of reasons who people shouldn’t expect to be able to feel good about what their company does? :-)

Here’s the thing; life is short. Too short to while away most of the hours of years of your life contributing to something you don’t even agree with. Too short to have your family members’ memories of their years with you be colored with how negatively your work affected you. You don’t need the hypertension, and your loved ones don’t need the unjustified bile.

Am I saying that finding work you believe in will eliminate stress and make you some fount of perpetual positive emotional energy? Why, of course not. Work is going to take something out of you, but it is going to take even more out of you if you’re doing it against your conviction, without the benefit of an additional resultant gain.

Oh, and one last thing. There may be some who say, “well my company does sell anything.” Sure they do. Everyone is selling something, a service in exchange for a form of compensation. The consumer may not be the payee, but something’s being provided. Don’t let that semantic keep you from examining whether or not your employer’s work resonates with you.